By RICHARD CHEEKS
The Kentucky Wildcats enter the NCAA tournament as the #2 seed in the South Region. The Cats enter the Big Dance with a 29-5 record, SEC regular season and tournament champions, and are riding an 11 game winning streak. The Cats’ first opponent is Northern Kentucky.
The official records of the UK Basketball program show only one prior meeting between these programs, on November 10, 2013, with the Cats a 36-point winner, 99-63. However, these teams met one previous time when the Norse came to Rupp for one of the Cats’ pre-season exhibition opponents on November 3, 2004. In that exhibition game, the Cats came away with an 18-point win, 91-73.
Clearly, in 2004, the NKU Norse was not a D1 program, and in 2013, it entered the realm of D1 competition. 2016-17 is the first season that provides NCAA post-season eligibility for the NKU Norse, and they clearly have made the most of the opportunity by playing their way into the 68 team field by winning the Horizon League post season tournament, and winning 12 of their last 14 games including their last 6 games.
NORTHERN KENTUCKY enters this game with a 24-10 record, but as noted above, on January 20, following a 7 point home loss to Oakland, the Norse record stood at only 12-8. The Norse’ most impressive win this season was a 4 point home win over #103 Valparaiso, and at the other end of the spectrum, NKU’s most embarrassing losses this season have been at #284 Youngstown State by 4 and to #290 Austin Peay by 8 points on a neutral court.
NORTHERN KENTUCKY enters this game with an ANE of -0.016 points per possession against strength of schedule of 0.0385 ppp (#248). The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.287 ppp against strength of schedule of 0.0966 ppp (#30).
The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 21 points, 79-58 at apace of 68 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.163 ppp and 0.854 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 19 points 87-68 at a pace of 72 possessions. Vegas opened favoring the Cats by 20 points.
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